sporklet 14

Spencer Williams


It’s the sunset, maybe, that hurts. The red, like when you turn to brush the knee you scraped
and see it for the first time. An open, gleaming thing.


Silly want, skipping across the lake and scaring geese. Mother in khakis saying relax your wrist,


and Maine in cool dark, hot with insect thirst.




In the backseat on the way to the fish mart, the roads appear smudged, wooded heavily on both sides, and the yellow warnings in the grass depict deer in silhouette, mid-leap.


A simple equation: when you suspect a predator is close, you run. You see the oncoming lights,
then look across the road, determining, in a flash, that safety is overthere.


It isn’t. And so the need for signs.




In the grocery mart, Mother lifts up a large beefsteak tomato, twisting it around in her palm, searching for bruises. She finds none, plopping it into her basket full of leeks and squash.


Father peers through the glass at the splayed fish on ice, dead eyes gleaming in their heads.


It was once hypothesized that the eye could record the final image seen before death.
Imagine then, these fish, what they might’ve been privy to.


The sea’s blue vastness, a warm strangle of light, and then the sudden blade
cutting through that light.


B says Hit me with your best playlist, and so you
plug your phone into the jack as he drives north
to where the trees are densely clustered, like groups
of people laughing in a park, the mountains

casting darkness over highway.


At any moment, you’re reminded. Somewhere out there, a man knows the inside of you better than he does your face.


You’ve written about this before.
You try not to, but the urgency sticks
like resentment.


No one told you, though you wish someone had, how the task of living a normal life is unpaid and dirty work.


Two hours into the drive, and B speeds past
a truck with the image of a dozen strawberries
halved and water-specked along the side. 


For a moment, you think the metals might collide, so close
the truck would ruin his old Ford and everyone inside it,
but you calm again once the traffic thins out onto gravel.


There, B’s sedan

the only moving thing for miles.



It’s fine if you don’t have anything else to write about, a poet told you.


For now, it’s fine that this is all you have.


Some days you feel like a private eye doomed to retrace her steps back to the crime she couldn’t solve. You circle.


You circle the dirt and walk a moat
around your body, your pants ripped down
to the ankles.


Of all things, it’s the ankles that catch you off-guard sometimes. At the grocery store, or
the pharmacy, the public bathroom.
You weren’t wearing any socks, and
so the ground was unforgiving.


Normally, you wear socks.


B stops at Dunkin Donuts for a coffee the size
of his head. Got my car fuel right here, he says.
An hour passes with conversations about
books, then who on this trip is fucking who,
and who will hook up for the first time
when they think no one’s listening.


You glance out the window,
take in the trees beginning to brown
at the head. Turkeys waddle near the road,
nuzzling the grass. On either side,
there are driveways fields apart from other driveways,
where shirtless children holler and make guns
with their hands, aim

at passing vehicles and also each other.


On TV, a character in a show about murder
experiences her rape in quick cuts of memory:


A cheap hotel room.
The shoreline of a beach.
A gun.
The thrashing sea.


What you can remember:


One hand pressing the girth of a tree
for balance. 




Your whole body, screaming.


There’s another body in the backseat of B’s car,
another friend of yours. E dozes off to Portishead
playing from the speaker, half-murmuring the words
as his eyes flutter visible, then gone. 


As B drives us up the mountains, a mist falls translucent
around the vehicle, like a shallow cloth one could bleed
or breath through. Still, something warms you—


B’s laugh, maybe,
as he drives past a billboard claiming

“There IS evidence for God!”


For the first time in four months,

you can’t wait to arrive somewhere.


You enjoy people.
But when the crowded rooms at the parties you attend are still again, you’re left to reckon with distraction. You go for a walk.
You turn up the song about fucking
and let it pull you in the direction

of a bedroom that isn’t yours.


Siri says: turn left in .3 miles
to the renovated schoolhouse you’ll be staying in for the weekend,
alongside other friends and fair-weather plans
to get some writing done.


Here, the road grows thinner,
as if to say there is only one path and so you have no choice
but to follow it, past
the rippling confederate flag on the neighbor’s porch,
the makeshift swing-set in the yard,

and the treehouse with a ladder of planks nailed to the trunk.


In every other version of your story, you do the thing you feel you should have done.
You report, and someone, a nice lady perhaps,
gives you a pair of clean clothes to wear,
hands you a coffee. The steam whips around your fingers while she asks you if you’re ok.
If you need to call anyone and tell them where you are.


As B turns the last corner, a tight one,
you hear anger before you see it,
the shaggy, snarling dog
in the distance, tethered by a rope to a tree.


Your people wave one house over
on the front steps, their laughter reaching
E in the backseat, who blinks awake
asking are we there already,

and B, grinning, saying yes.


The version of your story is, and so
you keep it—because what you didn’t do
is also what you did.


You went home and held yourself
beneath warm water.


You allowed the quiet of your room
to remind you of your breathing.


You didn’t wake your roommate
or ask him to hold you.


You took pain killers with a glass
of cold water and double checked

the door lock.


B circles the house, looking for a corner to park in.
It looks like it’s gonna rain soon, he says, staring up through the windshield.  


He parks and lifts open the trunk like a jaw. He drops

the sleeping bags onto a bed of dead leaves.


The poet asks,
What do you wish you could write about instead?


The old schoolhouse. Every blue-painted room
the size of a small chapel.


The dresser stuffed with lavender soaps.
The old guitars. The spittoon in the hallway.


The white curtain lassoing the tub
like a skirt.


B chasing chickens in the yard.
F stirring mild curry in a pot.


Everyone seated in a circle, coaxing
the half-hearted flicker of fire in the pit.


The tapping notes of rain.
The two nights of sleep so good

you can’t remember dreaming.

In the morning, Mother makes pancakes, slicing fresh plums


to rim the plate. I say nothing, though a part of me longs for the rolling pit


in my mouth, rough as a pumice stone, the itch on the tongue after spitting.


The cakes are good. Fat with butter. Soft enough to melt if kept without


chewing for too long. The view from the cottage is a rare sunlit sky, glossy shore


and capping sea. The pair of ospreys we’ve been watching for days have fled


the nest, but we know they’ll return. Sooner or later, there are things you can count on.


The sound of predators circling the trees at night. Their feast of crabs in the branches.


Red shells discarded, drumming up against the rocks.


After Remica Bingham-Risher

My life is at a distance now,


and I’ve finally come around to it.


So when my friend says


It always stays with you, I know that


what she means is: there is you,


and there is other you, laying


in that open field. And while


you are allowed to come back,


other you will not, even when begged


or beckoned. For so long, I was scared


to abandon her there, in the grass, legs


pulled into the shape of an arrow. So long


I wanted to undo the night’s walk home.


But I’m relieved to have survived


what, at first, I didn’t want to. Now, I sit


in the grass and open a book to read.


I uncap my water and drink a long, cool drink.


Wear shorts, do things like let the mind wander.It always stays with you.


Yes, but there are times when I sit in the grass


and don’t think to touch her, not even once.

Spencer Williams is from Chula Vista, California. She is the author of the chapbook Alien Pink (The Atlas Review, 2017) and has work featured in Apogee, PANK, Bright Wall/Dark Room, Hobart, Powder Keg, and Always Crashing. She received her MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University-Newark.